A Massive Proposal To Turn A Florida Pier Into A Floating Urban Park

With the Lens, a proposal for a huge, swooping pier in St. Petersburg, Florida, Michael Maltzan Architecture and Tom Leader Studio hope to reinvent the city’s waterfront.

A clean energy-powered concrete canopy with curving walkways and an underwater reef has won an international design competition to replace an aging pier in St. Petersburg, Florida.


The concept, by L.A. starchitect Michael Maltzan and Oakland-based Tom Leader Studio (the landscape architects behind this great railroad park in Birmingham), is expected to supplant the funky inverted pyramid (some say eyesore) that has presided over St. Pete’s waterfront for nearly four decades. The pyramid sits atop a pier that has declined in recent years. Rather than shell out for a retrofit, the city wants something fresh that can “redefine what the [pier] should be, and give it a new identity within the framework of an evolving downtown edge.”

That new identity is, well, it’s tough to pin down, even for the architects. In documents, they compare it to everything from “a magnifying glass on the water” to “waves or sails” to “a crown on the eastern horizon” to “a living room” to “a lens,” which also happens to be the proposal’s name. However you describe it, The Lens has several key features, which suggest that it won’t be just another unsavory side effect of Florida’s addiction to development:

Park-like walkways
Looping pathways give pedestrians, cyclists, and runners a greater medley of outdoor experiences than a traditional “walk-the-plank”-style boardwalk. There’s even room for a tram.

Rejuvenating aquatic life
Remains of the old pier form the basis of a new reef. Visible to the public, it’s designed to help regenerate surrounding sea life with a 2.5-acre oyster habitat that’s big enough to clean 20 million gallons of sea water a day.

Connection to the city
The design spills out onto the mainland with a lawn, a promenade, and other amenities to emphasize the relationship between the city and the pier.

Clean energy
Wind turbines, PV panels, and rainwater collection systems count among the proposed methods for powering the new pier. As for that magnifying glass / wave / sail / crown / living room / lens: It’s a canopy embedded with micro-turbines and shaped to maximize wind-energy production.


For more about The Lens and the proposals that didn’t win (one by Bjarke Ingels Group, another by West 8), go to


About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.